Who Is My Neighbor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Earlier this month, the leadership team from our two churches, along with teams from other churches in Pennsylvania and Delaware, attended a conference on church renewal. At one point, the leader shared a challenge from the book, The Art of Neighboring, encouraging us to get to know nine of our neighbors.

It struck me that, living in Philadelphia, we had an advantage over the others there, who lived in suburban and rural areas. I know, from having grown up in small towns, that the distance between two neighboring houses in those towns could easily be equal to the distance between my current house in Philadelphia and nine of my neighbors!

And yet, I had to ask myself: Do I really know my neighbors?

An expert in the Law once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, and Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).  I suggest that we ask ourselves that question in a different context: Who are our neighbors, really?  What are their dreams? What are their needs? How can I show the love of Christ to them?

As Christians, we acknowledge God’s purpose in every area of our lives, and we acknowledge our responsibility to be faithful to that purpose on a daily basis, in our day-to-day lives. We’re familiar with the Great Commission that Jesus gave us, to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Matthew 28:19), but let us not forget the commission that he gave to the man whom he delivered from a legion of demons, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19)

How well do you know your neighbors? How well do they know you and how much the Lord has done for you? Let us commit to making the most of every opportunity to share the love and light of Jesus with the world that’s right next door to us.

Where Does Our Help Come From

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1,2)

History tells us that, in the early years after Jesus died and was resurrected, the Jews, in revolt against the Roman Empire, took their stand atop the mountain fortress of Masada. Because of its height and inaccessibility, Masada was thought to be impregnable. However, over the course of a year, the attacking Romans patiently moved tons of stone and compacted earth to form a ramp up to the mountain, by which they laboriously maneuvered a siege tower and battering ram into position, enabling them to overwhelm the Jewish defenders.

Centuries before this chapter in Jewish history, a psalmist, looking out over the lofty, imposing hills of Jerusalem, made the wise and inspired observation that it is not the mountains that protect us, but the maker of the mountains, our God.

Last year was, in many ways, a year of uncertainty and upheaval. Many of the institutions on which people looked as safety nets stumbled or crumbled; many of the great minds and creative thinkers passed away; nations and armies rose and fell. For many of us, on a personal level, 2016 was a year of challenges, setbacks, and grief. And yet, in the midst of it all, we must remember that we have an anchor: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

As we stand at the dawn of a new year, let us take our eyes off of those illusory things that we may be tempted to put our confidence in: our health, our jobs, our nation’s leaders. We must pray for these, to be sure, but we need not invest our confidence in them. Instead, let us focus that confidence on the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Our world will change, but our God remains the same.

The Wisdom of Listening

open-door

“Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” (Proverbs 8:34)

When Solomon was king of Israel, the queen of Sheba traveled to Jerusalem to test his wisdom with many hard questions.

He passed with flying colors.

In her summary of the visit, the queen said, “How happy are your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” (I Kings 10:8)

She was talking about us!

As Christians, we have direct access to God, the source of Solomon’s wisdom. We don’t have to go on a long journey for glimpses of this wisdom, as the queen did, but, like Solomon’s officials, we have continual access to it.

But, like the queen, there are a couple of things that we have to do.

First of all, we have to seek God’s wisdom; to ask the “many hard questions” that we face on a daily basis. How often do we endure uncertainty and despair rather than simply asking God for direction? James reminds us that, if we need wisdom, we should ask the Father, and it will be given to us. (James 1:5)

The second thing that we need to do is listen. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of having someone who is struggling with a big problem come and tell you all about it in great detail, never stopping to listen for your advice. Or perhaps you’ve encountered someone who is so overwhelmed by his problem that he dismisses any advice that you offer, thinking that there’s no solution.

I sometimes wonder how often I have frustrated God by coming to him when I was distressed and talking non-stop, not letting him get a word in edgewise, even though he knows the way to address my problem all along.

We must never forget that prayer is a conversation with God; an opportunity not only to speak to him but also to hear and learn from him. If we truly understand what prayer is and who God is, our goal in prayer will shift from telling God what’s on our hearts to hearing what’s on his heart.

Imagine sitting in front of a refrigerator, desperately thirsty, but never bothering to open the door and look for something to drink – or opening the door, but only complaining to the pitcher of water inside about how thirsty you are. When we come before God, we’re opening the door to the answer for our need. When we listen to his wisdom, we’re drinking the water that satisfies our thirst.

 

-Otis A. Fortenberry

Power… To Be Witnesses

Aroma

I used to live in an apartment building that had a fast-food restaurant by the ground-floor entrance.  Without very much advertising, the restaurant tempted me every time that I walked into the building.  It was the aroma that attracted me.

This is one way that we, as Christians, are to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to take the Gospel to the world.  We are to live lives that attract non-believers even before we say a word.  This is something that we can’t do on our own.  Fortunately, Jesus, in Acts 1:8, promised us help in the person of the Holy Spirit, who would give us power to be his witnesses.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives, he produces his familiar fruit in us – love, joy, peace, and all the rest, listed in Galatians 5:22 and 23.  His fruit is what makes us attractive to a world that needs hope.  The Bible gives a wonderful example of this attraction in the story of Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16:16–34). It was the witness of Paul and Silas’ actions, not their words, which moved the jailer to ask, “What must I do to be saved?”

However, the power that we receive from the Holy Spirit is also undeniably verbal. Whenever we see, in both the Old and the New Testaments, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is accompanied by speech.  When Christ’s promised outpouring was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, the believers were immediately empowered by the Holy Spirit, “declaring the wonders of God” in languages understood by the crowds visiting Jerusalem (Acts 2:11).

If we, as a church, are looking for the kind of life that attracts unbelievers and for the power to declare God’s message with boldness, we must seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit – for ourselves individually and for the church as a whole.

-Otis A. Fortenberry